By  on July 19, 2005

LONDON — Charles Wilson, Marks & Spencer plc's second-highest-ranking official and a longtime lieutenant to the retailer's chief executive officer, Stuart Rose, has resigned.

Wilson, executive director of IT, logistics, and property, was brought in by Rose last summer after an attempted takeover bid by retail tycoon Philip Green. His mission was to cut costs at the struggling retailer.

Wilson will leave M&S at the end of October and join Booker Cash & Carry, Britain's biggest warehouse-style retailer as ceo, M&S said in a statement Monday. Wilson had worked with Rose for years at companies including Booker and Arcadia. The pair revitalized Arcadia, which includes the trendy Topshop chain, and sold it to Green in 2002.

"Charles joined M&S to do a specific job, namely to help focus the business and to deliver cash and cost improvements," Rose said in the statement. "He has delivered these and helped build a solid foundation for the company to go forward. Our priority now is to drive the business forward in key areas of product, service and environment."

Industry sources said Rose was negotiating with Wilson until the last minute in a bid to persuade him to stay at M&S. He was paid a 900,000 pound, or $1.58 million signing bonus last year. His overall pay for the year was 1.4 million pounds, or $2.5 million. The figures are converted from the pound at current exchange.

Both Rose and Wilson are on 12-month contracts that began last summer and were recently renewed, an M&S spokeswoman said.

Wilson will not be replaced, and his responsibilities will be assumed by others in the company, the statement said. The timing of Wilson's departure will allow Ian Dyson, group finance director, to settle into his new role.

Analysts and investors were divided with regard to the impact of Wilson's departure. Some said it was a loss for both Rose and the store, while others were more upbeat.

"Although Charles' departure may appear to be disappointing, by the end of October most of the major elements of his job will be completed," said Richard Ratner of Seymour Pierce Research. "The key to M&S now is stabilizing its sales line ... although, in fairness to Rose, it is not until the autumn season, Q3, that the actions of the management team can be fully judged."David Cumming, head of U.K. equities at Standard Life Investments, an M&S shareholder, said his company was "disappointed" at Wilson's departure. "However, we remain confident that Stuart Rose and his team will deliver a recovery at M&S in due course," he said in a statement Monday.

M&S shares, which are traded on the London Stock Exchange, closed at 3.62 pounds, or $6.34, down 1 pence, or 2 cents.

Total sales at M&S slid 3.1 percent in the 14 weeks ending July 9, or the first quarter of the fiscal year. Clothing sales were down 9.2 percent, chiefly because of a drop in opening price points aimed at making the store more competitive. Home sales dropped 22.3 percent, while food sales were up 5 percent. Rose, who is trying to claw back the store's share of the clothing market, said the trading environment continued to be tough.

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